It came and went without more than a handful of people knowing about it. To a vast world, it never existed. To most people, the thought of it will never entertain a moment of time in their minds. Yet for me, this time was one of the most exciting of my life and the memory it etched into my mind will have lifelong, rippling effects on my future hunts. Something so huge in my life and so nonexistent in most everyone else’s lends itself easily to the realization that life is strange. I am referring to the 2015 hunting season and more specifically the elk hunting season. This year I had a bull tag in my pocket. This was not the first year I had walked the woods with a bull tag in my pocket but this was the first year I had done so in rifle season, in Montana and in an area where I knew there were elk and my chances of filling that tag were high. The previous year I had the privilege of filling my first ever elk tag. I took a big old cow and the meat from that cow and my husbands bull had fed us all winter and through the summer.
This year my husband and I had reversed tags. He had a cow tag and I had the bull tag. Elk season is a high priority in our house. Elk is our preferred protein source and feeding a family of five requires a freezer full of it. Needless to say, when the weekends rolled around we were in the woods. Elk were also there. On many occasions we would be split up and the cows would walk in front of the bull tag owner while the bulls would hang out in front of the cow tag owner. We made many attempts at connecting with the elk but were foiled just as many times. These experiences are never bad. I learn something from each and every one of them. Being in the woods and battling wits with huge animals is rewarding enough in itself. The mind, body and soul are challenged and nourished in this ancient activity, handed down through time by the hunters who are in the very roots of every single family tree. Having the freedom to engage in something so genuine to the core of my being is something so very near and dear to me.
One of the first encounters I had with a bull elk this season was humbling, to say the least. My husband and I were with one of our hunting buddies, Bill, and a bull was spotted quite a long way off. He was down a canyon and bedded just over the edge of the ridge. We decided to try to stalk close enough for a shot. We knew that covering as much ground as possible down wind, out of sight and ear shot of the bull would be essential. We decided to go over to another finger ridge that ran adjacent to the one that concealed the bull in his bed. We worked our way down that ridge until we felt we were about at the same level as the bull. We could not see him at this point so we had to make as educated a guess as possible to his location as everything looks different when you are in the area you only saw in your binoculars.
We then headed down our ridge and began sneaking up the backside of the ridge the bull was on. We went slowly, stopping to glass and listen with every couple of steps. We knew at any time the bull could have gotten up and began to feed. He could be anywhere. It was slow and painstaking. Eventually we crested the ridge and looked in anticipation to the place we believed he was bedded. We could not see him and didn’t hear him either. We continued to creep through the area unsure if we were in the right spot or if we had topped the ridge above or below his location.
Suddenly, off to our left, the tell tale crashing proved our location was slightly below where we had hoped. He took off, barreling down the hillside and up onto the opposite ridge. The speeds that these huge animals have the ability to maintain, in dense brushy country, is astounding. He then began to run horizontally in front of Bill and I. He was across the canyon from us and instinctively we raised our rifles to prepare for a shot. You never know when they might stop and offer you a split second chance for success. I couldn’t find a rest near me and I knew he would be out of sight in the blink of an eye so I settled my sights on one of the few openings he had yet to run through and waited. I saw his head come into my view and when his vitals centered on my crosshairs I pulled the trigger. It was the only shot I got and I blew it. I have not shot at moving animals very often in my life because I have not had very many opportunities to do so where I felt confident in my ability to make the shot. Not only was this guy moving, he was full on running from left to right and not leading him was just a rookie mistake.
I knew right after I shot, I clean missed that bull. He ran off and down the next canyon and up the next ridge and clear out of sight. I went and searched for blood and any sign that he was hit, as any ethical hunter would, but that bull was healthy as a horse and probably laughed with his buddies that night as he retold of his encounter with the little blonde girl who thought she could aim right on him and it would work. Maybe someday he and I will get another chance to tango but for now he will keep on growing. He was a nice bull and the colors of his coat and the size and shape of his rack would continue to haunt my dreams for the remainder of the season. I didn’t get another shot at a bull until the very end. What started like any regular elk hunting morning soon turned into quite the day and one of my favorite hunts to date. To be continued…